With one spot left available for The Masters next week, it turns out that Ian Poulter wanted it most.
Crushed after being told a week ago that he had made The Masters field after a rousing round of 16 victory at the WGC-Match Play last week over Louis Oosthuizen, only to later be told he actually had to win one more match, a match where he was obliterated 8&6 by Kevin Kisner, the 42-year-old Poulter overcame a deep first round hole, and a ferocious rally from young American standout Beau Hossler to win the Houston Open and claim the last open spot at Augusta.
Having played in every Masters since 2007, with three top-10s in that span, Poulter will not be missing out on this year’s edition either, as the two-time PGA Tour champion with 12 European Tour victories captured his first tournament on either tour since 2012, and his first stroke-play victory ever in the U.S.
An opening-round 73 left Poulter outside the top 100 in the 144-man field, but a 64-65 tear on Friday and Saturday tied Hossler for the 54-hole lead.
After Hossler started slowly, Poulter’s Sunday advantage rose to three shots at one point, but was lost after the 23-year-old Hossler, a local favorite as a collegiate star at the University of Texas, birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine to take a one-stroke lead late.
Still down one stroke on the 18th tee box, Poulter drained a clutch 20-foot-putt to card only the sixth birdie of the day at the difficult hole. Pitted against Hossler, who just barely missed a birdie putt on 18 himself, in a playoff, Poulter, an all-time great Ryder Cup player had the clear advantage against the Tour novice.
The PGA has seen some long playoffs this year, but this was not one of those. Hossler sent his third shot, from a greenside bunker, over the green and into the water, giving the tournament to Poulter.
After sinking his short par putt, the demonstrative Brit exploded with excitement, knowing he had clinched a tee time at The Masters, in spite of long odds.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Ian Poulter -19
2 Beau Hossler -19
3 Jordan Spieth -16
3 Emiliano Grillo -16
5 Sam Ryder -15
6 Henrik Stenson -14
6 Keith Mitchell -14
8 Russell Henley -13
8 Matt Kuchar -13
8 Abraham Ancer -13
8 Matt Every -13
8 Julian Suri -13
14 Shane Lowry -12
18 Charles Howell III -11
18 Daniel Berger -11
24 Phil Mickelson -10
24 Tony Finau -10
43 Rickie Fowler -8
52 Justin Rose -7
64 Jason Dufner -5
72 Ernie Els -2
1 Keith Mitchell – 310.3 (T6)
2 Tony Finau – 309.7 (T24)
3 J.B. Holmes – 308.6 (T32)
1 Kevin Streelman – 87.5% (T43)
2 Ryan Armour – 83.9% (T43)
3 Ian Poulter – 80.4% (1)
1 Michael Thompson – 87.5% (T14)
2 Bud Cauley – 86.1% (T18)
3 Henrik Stenson – 84.7% (T6)
1 Ian Poulter – 23 (1)
1 Robert Garrigus – 23 (T18)
3 Sam Ryder – 22 (T5)
3 Keith Mitchell – 22 (T6)
HOW POULTER WON
A series of injuries and uncharacteristically poor play plummeted Ian Poulter, long considered one of the best in the world, to as far as No. 207 in the Official World Golf Rankings in early 2017, and very nearly lost his PGA Tour card entirely. But he’s done well re-establishing himself since, and after a strong showing at last week’s WGC-Match Play, he reached No. 51 in the rankings, one spot short of what he needed for the automatic Masters birth.
He drew some ridicule for how he handled himself after being told he had made the field at The Masters, and nearly decided against even playing in Houston, but in the end decided it was a worth one last shot.
Poulter’s round-one 73 had him in a tie for 123rd, eight shots out of the lead, but it took only 36 holes for him to make that seemingly insurmountable climb back to the top, as two incredible middle rounds made him a co-leader going into Sunday.
Poulter kept his foot on the gas pedal, carding birdies on Nos. 2, 4, 6, and 8 to take a three-shot lead, but a bogey on the 9th cut that lead to two at the turn.
Hossler, the other 54-hole co-leader, had eight pars and a birdie on the front nine, but suddenly burst into the lead after a grand slam of birdies on 12, 13, 14, and 15.
A birdie attempt on 18 to clinch his first career PGA Tour victory slid barely right of the hole, and suddenly, despite a bogey-free 5-under 67 on Sunday (the same Sunday score as Poulter), Hossler was met with the brutally difficult task of taking down Poulter, a man with a 4-0-1 career singles Ryder Cup record in a playoff, in what was essentially match-play.
It didn’t go well for the young Texan, as he butchered the first playoff hole, meaning Poulter was able to win with a par.
Poulter finished the week third in driving accuracy, T4 in greens in regulation, and had just one bogey over his final 60 holes.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR POULTER
The Masters invite was the big reward for Poulter, who is still trying to shake his ignominious status as one of the best in the world without a major victory, but the victory in Houston goes further than that. It gives a two-plus year Tour exemption to a man who would have lost his card last year, if not for some meticulous point-checking from the wife of a fellow Tour player, who realized his FedExCup points had been tallied wrong.
Poulter had seen his profile sink in recent years, but now as a PGA Tour winner, and a top-30 world ranking, the all-time great Ryder Cupper is now very likely to make the biennial spectacular this September.
Poulter now makes a potentially cunning bet at Augusta next week, and should be a factor in the FedExCup picture for the rest of the season. This win re-makes Poulter’s already impressive professional career.
STARRING ON EASTER SUNDAY
Sunday’s low round came from a very unsurprisingly place, as least as far as the Houston Open is concerned. Defending champion Russell Henley shot a bogey-free 7-under 65 to rocket 40 places up the final leaderboard into a tie for 8th place.
Henley continued to show an undying penchant for this event with his fifth straight-top 10, as he also finished T5 in 2016, 4th in 2015, and T7 in 2014.
Perhaps the only player in the field happier about his performance in Houston than Ian Poulter is Matt Every. Every, a two-time Tour champion finished T8 after a bogey-free 6-under 66 on Sunday. Coming into the week, Every had missed the cut in 38 of his last 62 starts (61% of his starts) and had not posted a result inside the top 10 since winning the 2015 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
This is an unbelievable result for a man who has seen his golf career go into an absolute death spiral over the past three years. Every had just a single bogey between rounds 1, 2, and 4.
Fan favorite Phil Mickelson was coming into Houston hot, but after an opening-round 68, Mickelson struggled in the two middle rounds.
The three-time Masters champion, however, will be heading into next week on a high note after a bogey-free 5-under 67 on Sunday. The tremendous round rose Mickelson 31 spots up the final leaderboard, into a tie for 24th, easily his worst result since January, but that is really more of a testament to how well he has been played in February and March, where he had four top-6 finishes in five events.
NEEDING A SUNDAY MULLIGAN
It was a Sunday to forget for Greg Chalmers, who was in the penultimate final-round pairing, but fell an unbelievable 67 spots down the leaderboard after a disastrous 9-over 81.
Chalmers failed to card a single birdie on Sunday, and tallied four bogeys and a double-bogey over his final six holes, after just two holes of bogey or worse in his first three rounds. One of the worst totals anyone will see in a PGA Tour event, Chalmers lost an unfathomable 7.9 stroke to the field tee-to-green on Sunday.
Rickie Fowler continued his troubling recent trend of Sunday results with a 1-over 73 that dropped him 26 spots on Sunday and into a tie for 43rd. Fowler’s iron game and putting were abysmal on the weekend, and the always popular majors pick will be going into Augusta with a lot of questions.
Kevin Tway was in a tie for third going into Sunday, giving him a shot at his first career PGA Tour victory, but Sunday bit him hard as a 3-over 75 moved him from T3 to T32. Tway had nothing but struggles on the green, and although he tallied 11 pars in all four rounds, his two birdies on Sunday were a big drop from his first three rounds.
SPIETH ON TRACK
Few players, if any, feel more comfortable at Augusta than Jordan Spieth, so it should worry the field some than the Masters prodigy will be going into the tournament on a T3 in Houston.
With five birdies and an eagle, Spieth’s 6-under 66 on Sunday was bested by only Russell Henley, and led to easily his best finish of the 2018 season.
Spieth’s putting was, again, an issue, as he finished a dismal 69th in the field in strokes gained: putting, but he was still passable in that statistic in three rounds (his Saturday putting was really, really bad), and he led the field for the week in strokes gained: approach-the-green, and strokes gained: tee-to-green.
“Last week was painful, and to come here this week, I was tired and I was frustrated on Thursday, I didn’t play my best stuff, I had packed my bags to leave on Friday, and a mental switch, and I said to James (my caddie), ‘Let’s just play golf, and see what happens”. I played 7-under, and today I was patient, I waited my time, and this is amazing. I haven’t won a stroke-play event in the states, so to do it this week, after the disappointment of last week, to know I’m going to Augusta, to do it in true fashion, is amazing.”
– Ian Poulter, Houston Open Champion